Dog CPR and First Aid Basics That Might Save a Life

time
12 Minute Read
Updated July 1, 2022

During a life-threatening emergency, seconds and minutes matter. Imagine your dog collapses and stops breathing. What would you do?  Do you know how to perform dog CPR?  Do you have a dog first aid kit close by?  

You do the best you can to keep your pets safe, but some things are just beyond your control. Accidents happen. Pets get sick or hurt, and sometimes the best you can do to prepare is to know how to react in an emergency situation. 

The first thing you should always do in an emergency situation is to call your nearest emergency vet. Emergency animal hospitals are often open 24 hours and can give the best instructions for how to proceed and get your dog the medical care they need as quickly and safely as possible. 

In this blog, we’ll go over some emergency situation and the basic techniques that you might need to save your dog's life.

Cardiac Arrest in Dogs

When a dog’s heart stops beating, they enter a state of cardiac arrest. Vital blood is no longer pumped throughout the canine’s body to the brain and lungs. 

The brain and vital body organs of a mammal cannot survive without oxygen for longer than four to six minutes. CPR involves using chest compressions to keep the blood flowing throughout the pet’s body when the heart cannot perform. 

What Causes Cardiac Arrest in a Dog? 

Many things can cause a dog to undergo cardiac arrest. Often a dormant physical condition or a chronic disease can lead to cardiac arrest. Learning dog CPR and keeping a well-stocked dog first aid kit on hand can help save the animal’s life. 

Below are a few of the main causes of cardiac arrest in a dog. 

Trauma

One of the most common causes of cardiac arrest in a dog is trauma. If your dog runs in front of a car and sustains blunt force trauma, then excessive blood loss and shock can quickly lead to cardiac arrest. 

Heart Disease 

Heart failure can occur as a result of a genetic condition, natural aging, or lifestyle choice. Usually, a dog will start to slowly develop heart disease. Over time, it will gradually worsen until the animal experiences cardiac arrest. 

Toxin Exposure 

Dogs are naturally curious animals and can quickly get into things that they are not supposed to. Toxins can be found in food, chemicals, plants, prescription medications and pesticides. 

Electrocution 

Dogs, especially puppies, are notorious for chewing on electrical wires and cords which can cause electrocution. The rapid jolts of electricity will lead to cardiac arrest in the animal as the heart's natural electrical impulses are disrupted.

Heartworm Disease  

Heartworm infestation is sneaky and deadly. An infected animal might not show any signs of being sick until the heart is completely invaded by the parasites. Once a full colony of adult heartworms are attacking the organ, the heart can stop functioning. 

Learn more about the dangers of heartworm and how to protect your dog in Treating Mosquito Bites on Dogs.

What To Do If You Suspect Cardiac Arrest In Dogs

If you find your dog unconscious, not breathing, or unresponsive, then it’s possible that they are in cardiac arrest. Immediately check for signs of breathing. 

You’ll want to check the dog's airway, look for breathing and listen for a heartbeat.  

Clear The Airway

Open the dog’s mouth to perform a visual examination of the dog’s airway. Is it clear?  Look into the canine’s mouth and throat to check for obstructions. Any obstruction of the throat can easily halt the animal’s air supply which will render your CPR efforts ineffective. 

Check for Breathing

Check to see if the pet is actually breathing on its own. Examine the doggo’s chest to see if it naturally rises and falls. If you cannot see any visual movement of the chest, then place your cheek near the dog’s nose to try to feel for airflow. If your dog is breathing, then do not perform CPR.

Feel for a Heartbeat

Position your ear against the chest and listen for a heartbeat. If you feel a pulse or see movement in the chest that indicates the heart is beating and you should not start CPR. If no heartbeat is detected, then you must start immediate CPR.

 

How to Perform Dog CPR

dog-getting-chest-compressions

After you have established that the dog is not breathing and his heart has stopped beating then it is time to immediately start performing CPR. There are three steps to dog CPR:

Chest Compressions

The most important part of CPR is chest compressions. By compressing and releasing the heart, it forces blood to circulate, allowing whatever oxygenated blood in your dog’s body to move to the brain and other vital organs. 

Here’s a quick breakdown of how to do chest compressions on a dog:

      • Place the dog on his side on a flat surface. 
      • Position the canine so that the head aligns with the neck to open the throat and air passage. 
      • Place your hand over the dog’s heart or over the widest part of the chest. 
      • Begin compressions by starting to press firmly so that the chest sinks approximately one-third to one-half its normal depth, then release, allowing the chest to fully expand again.
      • You need to give 30 compressions at a rhythm of 100-120 chest compressions per minute. Think of the Bee Gees classic - Stayin Alive.  

Rescue Breathing

Rescue breathing is a way to reintroduce some oxygen into your dog’s body. Rescue breathing can be a helpful step in CPR for dogs in cardiac arrest but can also be used alone for dogs that aren’t breathing but still have a pulse. 

This is how to give your dog rescue breathes:

      • Wrap your mouth around the dog’s nose, making a firm seal. If the dog is small or medium size, then you can easily cover the dog’s entire nose and mouth with your own.
      • However, with a large dog, you’ll need to place your mouth directly over the nose and then hold the dog’s mouth shut with your hand to ensure that there is no air oozing through the dog’s mouth and lips.
      • Hold the dog’s jaws closed while you breathe into the pet’s nose. With a large dog, you’ll need both hands to cover the dog’s muzzle sufficiently. 
      • Blow firmly into the dog's nose until you see the animal’s chest rise, then remove your mouth from the dog's nose to let the air expel. Do this twice.

Repeat compressions and rescue breath cycles for two minutes. There should be 2 rescue breaths for every 30 chest compressions. 

Check for Pulse

Every 2 minutes, stop CPR and check for a pulse. If you detect a pulse or signs of breathing, stop doing CPR immediately. Otherwise, continue performing CPR until your pet can receive emergency veterinary care. 

The Sad Truth About Dog CPR

Knowing basic dog CPR is a vital skill if you want to be prepared to handle a pet emergency, but the truth is, pet CPR has a pretty low success rate. At little as 5% of dogs in cardiac arrest make it, even with CPR from a trained veterinary professional. 

The problem is that most situations that lead to cardiac arrest in dogs involve severe trauma, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. CPR for dogs may not have a high success rate, but in some situations, it could buy you the time you need to get your dog to a vet. 

The other thing to keep in mind is that chest compressions need to be aggressive to work. This means that you need to push hard. A common mistake is not to push hard enough for fear of hurting the animal, but this won’t be effective. 

Sometimes, when you do CPR on an animal, you could break ribs or cause severe bruising. This may not be pleasant, but it’s the only way to compress the chest far enough to push blood through the heart.

 

Helping a Choking Dog

dog-choking

In some situations, if your dog has stopped breathing but has a heartbeat, then it might be choking on an object, food, or toy. You’ll need to perform what many refer to as a ‘canine Heimlich maneuver’ because it does share similarities with the way you treat a human choking victim.

Clear Your Dog’s Throat

Start by clearing away any obstruction from the pup's airway. To clear the throat, you’ll need to move the tongue out of the way and then reach down the dog’s mouth and throat to remove the obstruction with your fingers.

If the blockage is located too deep and you cannot get a firm grasp on the debris, then you’ll need to perform canine Heimlich.

How to Give Your Dog the Heimlich 

The Heimlich maneuver is designed to force out the object that is stuck. This means pushing firmly up from below their rib cage. How you do the Heimlich on your dog depends on their size and body shape. 

Heimlich for Small Dogs

Doing the Heimlich maneuver on a small dog requires a little less force, and the dog is easy to move into the ideal position. 

      • Lay your dog on his back, belly up.
      • Place your hand, palm down, just below the rib cage.
      • Apply firm pressure to the abdomen and quickly release.
      • You may have to do this several times to dislodge the object. 

Heimlich for Large Dogs

Bigger dogs are harder to move around and tend to have a deeper rib cage. The Heimlich can be done from either a standing or lying position. 

      • If your dog is standing, wrap your arms around your dog’s belly below the ribs.
      • If your dog is laying, roll him to his side and place one hand on his belly, below the rib cage, and the other on his back, a little higher up than your other hand.
      • Using a quick but firm motion, push up and forward.
      • Remember that on a bigger dog, the object may have a further distance to travel to clear his throat, so push in the direction that you want the object to go. 

The fast compressions will often eject the obstruction so that the dog can breathe. If your dog starts to cough or wheeze, check your dog’s mouth and swipe your fingers to the back of his mouth to feel for the object. 

Unlike in the movies, the object is unlikely to launch out of your dog’s mouth, but it may push up far enough for your dog to cough it up or for you to grab it. 

Immediately after, call your vet. They will advise you on the appropriate next steps. They can check for any damage from the obstruction or from the administration of the Heimlich. 

 

Dog First Aid

injured-dog-getting-first-aid

CPR is one of the most important skills you can master for your first aid repertoire, but you’ll also want to learn other dog first aid hacks while maintaining a fully stocked dog first aid kit.

Whether you have a dog first aid kit Canada or are just working with human medical supplies that you have on hand, knowing how to attend to different kinds of injuries can be helpful in a pinch. 

A pet first aid kit is ideal to have on hand because it will carry tools and supplies that are specifically designed for dogs and cats. Many human medical supplies can be effective, like Neosporin for Dogs, but supplies like bandages and gauze may be too large or the wrong shape for your pet.

A store-bought dog first aid kit, like the Kurgo First Aid Kit, will have a variety of medical supplies to treat minor wounds and injuries, but there are other items that you should keep with your first aid kit, just in case you need them. 

Here is a simple checklist to help you stock your pet's first kit:

First Aid Checklist

Basic Dog First Aid Techniques

Below is a list of basic dog first aid techniques that you should master in the event of an emergency. 

Blood Loss

Determine how severe the blood loss is. Has the dog cut his pad or is there a laceration? Using clean gauze, place pressure on the wound to slow the bleeding. If you do not have gauze, a clean towel or cloth will do in an emergency.

You want to apply firm and consistent pressure until the bleeding stops. For minor cuts and abrasions, the bleeding should stop within a minute or two. The wound can then be gently cleaned, disinfected and bandaged. 

Burns 

Cool the burn using cold water. This will stop the burn from reaching the skin below the surface and causing more damage than is already done. Don’t use ice as this can damage the healthy tissue around the burn. 

Cover the burn with a damp washcloth or towel. If the burn occurred as a result of a caustic substance, then you’ll want to rinse the burn for at least 15 minutes. Immediately contact your veterinarian. 

Seizure

A canine seizure can occur as a result of numerous health conditions. If your dog has a seizure, try to calm the animal by keeping the dog in a quiet, dark space while you seek out medical care. Never reach into a dog’s mouth when it is seizing to retrieve the animal’s tongue, or you could get bit. 

Brace your dog to prevent injury, but do not try to hold him still. You want to prevent him from falling, hitting walls, or knocking into things, but trying to immobilize him when he’s seizing could result in injury. 

Eye Injury

Immediately wash the dog’s eye using a saline solution. Debris in the eye can cause further damage and irritation. A good ophthalmic solution, like Vet’s Best Eye Wash, can be used to flush the eye quickly. Plain cool tap water can be used if a dog eye wash is not available. 

Heat Stroke

When the temperature rises, your dog is at an increased risk of sustaining a heat stroke. Never leave your dog outdoors without adequate shade and fresh drinking water, and do not leave your dog alone in the car. Keep your dog cool with dog cooling gear, fresh, clean water, and limiting direct sun exposure. 

 

Be Your Dog’s Hero 

dog-getting-leg-bandaged

When an emergency situation occurs, you have a limited amount of time to act quickly to save your dog’s life. You should know how to perform canine CPR and have a fully stocked go first aid kit available to provide life-saving care as you seek veterinary assistance.

It's easy to get overwhelmed when your pet gets sick or hurt, but the best thing you can do is to try to keep yourself calm so that you can assess the situation and act quickly to get your pet the care they need. You can't prepare for every situation, but if you educate yourself and keep the right tools on hand, then you have a better chance of providing your pooch with immediate care.

If you are interested in learning more about pet first aid, St. John's Ambulance offers a Pet First Aid Course to help you learn the skills and best practices to help you deal with unexpected and emergency situations. 

 

Written by

Homes Alive Pets

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